I really hate it when a movie has a lot of things going for it, like great performances, interesting messages, or challenging social themes, and it ruins every last good part of them by the fact that the director didn’t do nearly enough editing and let his film grow to a bloated, unfocused mess. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that so exemplifies this problem as well as Imitation of Life, a 1959 melodrama about a particular aspect of race relations in America in the 1950’s. And while the idea of of exploring the relationship between a light-skinned African-American daughter who grows to resent her dark-skinned mother and the relationship between two single mothers of different races in the 1950’s, this movie was ridiculously way too long and it bounced back and forth between so many different uninteresting plots that I kept begging for the film to be over before it was even half way over.
Imitation of Life is about the relationship that is formed between Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) and Annie Johnson (Juanita Jones). They are both struggling single mothers. Lora wants to be an actress but is not having any career success. They both have young daughters. Lora is a widower and Annie’s husband left before her daughter was born. Annie is African-American, but her daughter is so light-skinned that she is able to pass as white. There is a never-ending friction between Annie and her daughter because Annie resents that her mother is black and she wishes to pass herself off as white. That’s actually probably the most interesting aspect of the film. The film also chronicles Lora’s rise to stardom in the world of theater and film, and how her success causes her to ignore her own flesh and blood daughter.
Pretty much the only reason that I was able to finish the film were the strong performances of Juanita Jones as Annie and Susan Kohner as Annie’s grown-up daughter. They both received Best Supporting Actress nominations at the Academy Award and they were well deserved. However, this movie lost me pretty early in and if I weren’t reviewing it for this blog, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. I can’t really recommend this one to anyone, and this score isn’t even lower than it is based on the strengths of certain performances alone.
Final Score: C